Honduras’ hopes of ruffling a few feathers in South Africa have taken a hit in recent weeks, and the injury to Carlo Costly is perhaps the biggest cloud on their
Coach Reinaldo Rueda’s decision to eschew the selection of a 30-man squad in favour of naming the 23 players he intends to take to South Africa, along with seven reserves, is typical of a leader who’s strength has so often laid in meticulous preparation. Although a miraculous recovery is not completely out of the question, Costly’s presence among the stand-by seven however, suggests Rueda has little confidence in his striker being fit by the time Los Catrachos play their first Group H game against Chile on June 16. Costly’s injury has devastated many in his homeland, with Rueda chief amongst the mourners, stressing the impact his absence will have on Honduras’ chances: “There is no name to replace Costly because of his temper, his heart, and all he gives to the national team. We don’t have the arsenal we believe we have – he was the only international forward playing and scoring goals.”
Rueda’s words appear pessimistic, but it is possible that they amounted to nothing more than the careful management of expectations from one of international football’s wiliest operators. Certainly the lack of goals in the squad is cause for concern. Legendary striker Carlos Pavon, at 36, isn’t getting any younger, while the team’s other star forward, Inter’s David Suazo, has question marks over his fitness after suffering a muscle injury in his leg in April while playing for Genoa, where he is on loan. Suazo, cousin of Wigan’s Hendry Thomas, returned to the Rossoblu line up in time for their final Serie A game of the season, but has struggled for form and fitness this term, with just three goals in 14 games. ‘El Pantera Negra’, on his day, is an unpredictable livewire capable of explosive goals. However, he has been plagued by injury in recent years which may have taken their toll on the man voted Serie A’s Most Valuable Foreign Player in 2006. The former Cagliari man’s record at international level, with 16 goals in 50 games, does not compare favourably with Pavon’s 57 in 98 or even Costly’s 14 in 39 internationals. Many Honduras fans believe that, with Costly all but certain to be sidelined, los Catrachos’ hopes depend on which David Suazo turns up.
So what of Georgie Welcome, the Motagua striker called up in place of Costly? Some media outlets have portrayed the lanky forward’s inclusion in Rueda’s squad as a surprise, given his relative lack of international experience, and with only a fairly modest seven-goal haul in the Clausura this season. Certainly for a coach given to publicly complaining about a lack of available, prolific strikers, Rueda’s decision to overlook Jerry Mengston of Vida – la Clausura’s leading scorer this season – does seem somewhat incongruous, even if Bengston only has one cap to his name to date. Jerry Palacios, one of four brothers who star for the national side (including Tottenham’s Wilson Palacios), is another forward who can perhaps consider himself unlucky to have been overlooked, although a mid-season move to the Chinese Superleague with also-rans Hangzhou Greentown probably hurt his chances of selection.
While not prolific for club nor country this season, Welcome nevertheless comes with a promising pedigree. The 25-year-old has the strength and power to cause problems for defences and scored the winner to clinch the CONCACAF Under-23 Championships for Los Catrachos in 2008 against the USA. His displays have reportedly put him on the radar of Dutch giants PSV, with Wigan and Blackburn also allegedly showing an interest. The World Cup has a habit of turning the unlikeliest of figures into household names, and Welcome may get his chance to shine when he shares the spotlight with top class defenders such as Gerard Pique.
Honduras might be praying for a miracle, but it looks as though Carlo Costly will not be following in his father Anthony, a veteran of los Catrachos’ Spain ‘82 campaign, by playing in a World Cup finals. Reinaldo Rueda however, is far too shrewd a coach to be sincere in his public fatalism. He will know that there are goals in his side beyond the front men, with attacking midfielders such as inspirational captain Amado Guevara and Walter ‘El Pery’ Martinez in midfield and free-kick specialists like Maynor Figueroa and Victor Bernardez at the back. While Carlo’s absence may be costly, los Catrachos are still capable of springing a surprise in South Africa.